This last week in Vancouver a mysterious life-size statue appeared. It’s not far from my place but I missed seeing it. Let me first describe the area. Clark Dr. is the truck route in and out of Vancouver. If you’re coming over the border from the US it’s one of the routes that lead you into the city on the east side. Clark and 4th Ave. are a juncture with a major road going west into the city. The SkyTrain station tracks go over the top and a college campus is nearby.
Riding high above the tracks is the East Van cross by artist Ken Lum. I’ve already written about my opinion of this cross in Ho Hum, Ken Lum. At night it glows white against the evening sky. Overall this is a blue-collar, industrial area filled mostly with cars zooming by. People don’t linger here. There are no coffee shops or funky places in which to hang. There’s an autobody shop, an auto glass shop, a few warehouses. Nothing special. So I suppose every piece of art adds something to a dreary commuter route.
Now, this other statue I mentioned wasn’t commissioned by the city or through some high-end artist. In fact it’s very much like the graffiti that adorns the walls near by. It was made and placed by the unknown artists who feel a need to make a comment or change the streets of our city.
The area where the statue was erected has had a bare podium for years. It supposedly once held a statue of Christopher Columbus to honor Angelo Branca, a prominent Italian-Canadian judge who had once been a middleweight boxing champion. East Van has Vancouver’s largest Italian population. Around 2000, that stature disappeared and ended up in Hastings Park, supposedly rescued from a bad location. And it is a bad location. People don’t go to this area for a picnic, while I’m sure drug addicts do go there. So this odd, Stonehenge-like park was empty for years.
No one knows who erected the statue or when, but a life-size red devil appeared in the last few weeks. It was very red, very identifiable as the classic red Satan and was wearing nothing but a very large erect penis. Suddenly, this unknown un-park (which I remember with the Christopher Columbus statue and barren for years) was a place of pilgrimage. Tourists and locals came by to take pictures and view the goods. From the SkyTrain, if anyone wasn’t looking down at their phones, they probably got a good view of the lil devil.
Was it just a prank, an idol placed by Satanists, guerrilla art? I think it was much more than that and a statement. I’d already stated that to place a piece of blatantly religious art such as the East Van cross, whether hearkening back to early neon art history or East Van heritage or not, was offensive in its own way when we live in a much more multicultural and multi-religious world. But if we take in this somewhat cliché, a bit tacky, definitely bawdy sculpture of a devil, we have a piece that could also be considered offensive.
Perhaps the unknown artists wanted to show that what is offensive to one may not be to another. And when you look at it in another light, these two pieces of art actually complement each other. Yes, they do. They are both Christian iconography. The devil’s right hand is making a devil horns symbol but it is also pointing up…to the cross that stands above and to his right. Salvation and damnation; what could be more Christian and recognizably so? To me, having the devil standing there actually made the cross less offensive and kind of balanced the piece with more depth about a particular religion and its recognizable symbols. However, the city didn’t see it that way and took it down.
While I never liked the cross, I do believe certain types of art are meant to provoke thought and discussion. The devil brought that out and truly lived up to the reputation of a devil; he sowed unrest, disturbed the piece, was ribald and drew attention. Here’s to the unseen artists who thought to complete Ken Lum’s sentence.